RACE DEBRIEF

    A jaw-dropping final five laps of the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix ultimately saw Red Bull’s Sergio Perez score his first win for the team, as Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly joined him on the podium. One of those three drivers scored the highest in this week’s Aramco F1 Power Rankings – but which one was it? Read on to find out…

    HOW IT WORKS

    • Our six-judge panel assesses each driver after every Grand Prix and scores them out of 10 according to their performance across the weekend – taking machinery out of the equation

    • Our experts’ scores are then averaged out across the season to create an overall Power Rankings Leaderboard (at the bottom of the page)

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    Baku was a strong scoring race in general, and you could have put forward compelling arguments for a number of drivers claiming top spot this week – as indeed our judges did.

    But they were also unanimous in their praise of Pierre Gasly, after the Frenchman drove a superb weekend, qualifying fourth and just 0.002s off his former team mate Max Verstappen – with Gasly then showing excellent racecraft to see off Charles Leclerc at the Lap 50 restart and finish third, for his third Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri podium.

    READ MORE: Gasly says he had to take ‘big risks’ to seal podium after being slowed by engine issues

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    Sebastian Vettel shocked us all when he succeeded in maintaining his record of never being classified outside the top five in Monaco (barring his two DNFs) last time out. And amazingly, he’s now managed to maintain his record of never finishing outside the top four in Baku, after a fantastic race from the four-time champion that saw him finish second.

    That means that, having not scored at all in the first four races of 2021, Vettel has now claimed the second-most points of any driver in the past two Grands Prix, behind only Sergio Perez – with the German looking very much like he's getting back into the swing of things.

    READ MORE: Vettel 'over the moon' with maiden Aston Martin podium after 'very rough' start of the season

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    It was gutting for Max Verstappen to finish the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend point-less, the Dutchman having been poised for his first ever consecutive victory in F1 until his tyre blowout five laps from the end.

    Still, he can’t be blamed for that, while with Verstappen having once again been unlucky to have his final Q3 shot for pole taken away, and having driven brilliantly in the race, our judges handed the retiree a strong 9.3 for his efforts.

    READ MORE: Verstappen reveals he was in Baku medical centre when he learned of Hamilton’s restart mistake

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    Was it harsh that our race winner from Baku was scored lower than two people he beat, plus his own team mate who didn’t even finish? Perhaps. In truth, there were flaws in Perez’s weekend, the Mexican’s first Q3 lap only good enough for seventh on the grid (later bumped to sixth after Lando Norris’ penalty for a red flag infringement) as his Saturday performances continue to lack polish.

    Despite that, this was unquestionably his best race as a Red Bull driver, with Perez rewarding the team’s faith in him – on a Baku circuit he loves – with his second career victory after Verstappen’s DNF.

    READ MORE: Perez reveals team came close to retiring car before maiden Red Bull win in Baku

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    Charles Leclerc was not a happy bunny at the conclusion of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend, and in a sense, you could understand why. The Monegasque had brilliantly taken his second pole in succession – secured, once again, by a crash that ruined his rivals’ second Q3 runs, although at least it wasn’t Leclerc crashing this time – before leading the pack around for the first lap.

    But he was ultimately powerless to hold back the frontrunners, dropping down the order before losing out at both race restarts to ultimately finish a still-commendable P4 – but with Leclerc having just 12 points to show for his pair of poles in the past two races, rather than the 52 he’d have preferred...

    READ MORE: Leclerc says possible tree branch on track triggered start of fall from pole to P4 in Baku

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    Fernando Alonso took a fine P7 for McLaren the last time he raced in Baku in 2018 – and he was at it again in 2021, going from P8 on the grid to P6 at the flag for the best result of his comeback so far.

    That sixth place was earned with a searing Lap 50 restart from Alonso, which saw him move ahead of four cars in a frantic final two laps – although the Spaniard admitted after the Grand Prix that he would have liked a touch more pace from his Alpine A521 for the other 49 laps.

    WATCH: Alonso charges through field to P6 at race restart

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    Lando Norris was tipped for big things ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend, following his Monaco podium, and with the gutsy Mercedes engine in the back of his McLaren MCL35M.

    Despite that, he never seemed to fall entirely into the groove in Baku, qualifying sixth – before a penalty dropped him to ninth – while he then overcame a poor start to benefit from the downfalls of Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton and come home a respectable P5, having tried, and failed, to get past Leclerc for fourth on the final lap.

    READ MORE: Norris happy with recovery to P5 in Azerbaijan GP after ‘annoying’ opening lap

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    It was far from a perfect weekend for Tsunoda, whose Q3 crash settled the qualifying battle in Leclerc’s favour, while he was then passed by Alonso at the Lap 50 restart, leaving him P7 at the flag – a fact which left the infamously irascible young Japanese “really mad”.

    But considering the daunting nature of Baku, Tsunoda taking his first Q3 appearance at all here was impressive, while seventh also represents his best F1 finish to date – with team boss Franz Tost praising his driver’s efforts as “fantastic”.

    READ MORE: Why Tsunoda was ‘really mad’ after Azerbaijan GP despite his best finish of the season

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    The Baku City Circuit is a place for cooler heads to prevail – and by definition, they don’t come cooler than the Iceman himself, with Raikkonen staying out of trouble to quietly stalk his way into the top 10 by race end, and claim his first point of the season.

    That also meant that, having gone point-less in the first four races of 2021, Alfa Romeo have now scored at two races on the bounce, the Swiss team finally able to convert some of their impressive form from pre-season testing into actual points.

    WATCH: Kimi Räikkönen happy to 'take the point' in 'hectic' Azerbaijan GP

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    Interestingly, our judges’ scores for Lewis Hamilton ranged all the way from a five to a nine – with how you view the seven-time champ’s weekend really coming down to a philosophical choice.

    Given that team mate Valtteri Bottas was barely able to get inside the top 10 all weekend, does Hamilton taking second on the grid, holding onto the coattails of the faster Red Bulls and challenging for victory at the race restart mean it was a great performance?

    Or was his ‘brake magic’ mistake that put him P15 at the flag, and allowed title rival Max Verstappen off the hook after his crash, an unforgivable lapse from a driver who should know better? Decide that for yourself – but Hamilton at least earned the final spot in our top 10 this week.

    READ MORE: What is the 'magic' brake setting that cost Hamilton in Baku – and why do Mercedes struggle at low-grip tracks?

    MISSING OUT

    George Russell said ahead of qualifying that Q2 was now the minimum he expected on a race weekend – and he delivered once again, making it six appearances from six in the second segment of qualifying this year.

    Once again, however, points eluded him on race day, with Russell running outside the top 10 all Sunday afternoon before retiring with a gearbox issue as he was about to take the Lap 50 restart – leaving the Briton just outside of our Power Rankings top 10 this week.

    Formula One World Championship
    Russell finished just outside our top 10

    THE OVERALL STANDINGS

    Three drivers – Verstappen, Vettel and Gasly – have all averaged 9.3 from the past two races. Lewis Hamilton though? Just 6.0, meaning the Mercedes driver drops another place down to P4 this week, as Verstappen remains in top spot – while Gasly is the biggest climber after Baku, up three places.

    Meanwhile, if Vettel’s upward trajectory continues, the German could be set to displace some of the drivers in the lower reaches of the top 10, and breach the leaderboard for the first time this year.

    READ MORE: Jolyon Palmer – Why most drivers would have loved the late restart in Baku – despite the added stress

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